What's Old: Ulmer at Doc | Bleader

What's Old: Ulmer at Doc

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Yes, Virginia, there is an Edgar G. Ulmer, and he is no longer one of the private jokes shared by auteur critics, but one of the minor glories of the cinema. —Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968

Already I've sat through Edgar Ulmer's Strange Illusion (screening at Doc Films Sunday at 7) twice and still can't remember anything about it. Or hardly anything: one very odd-looking actor (presumably Jimmy Lydon, from review summaries I've read), an elaborately gated estate entrance, and some of the most ludicrously awful back-screen projection I've ever been witness to ... except I adore that out-of-sync matting, as antidote to our official (as in "oppressive") realist paradigm, arguably one of the "minor glories" that Sarris would call our attention to.

But a lot of Ulmer just goes by me—like Detour (October 26), his alleged poverty row "masterpiece." Yes, yes, the surreality and hothouse delirium, the expressionist accents on loan from 20s Weimar, the absurdity of the winding telephone cord—and of course Ann Savage (but why "of course"? what's supposed to be so outlandish?: another of those privileged insights I can't get a handle on). But inspired?—I'd take Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster any day. Or Ruthless (not in the Doc series), the Citizen Kane of the bargain bins and, pace The Black Cat, still probably my favorite Ulmer of all. Rich if not exactly strange—which is defeating the whole idea, right? Since respectable Ulmer is arguably less consequential than no Ulmer at all.

I'm also a bit of a contrarian—or maybe just out of it—on the Texas state fairgrounds twins of 1960, The Amazing Transparent Man (November 23) and Beyond the Time Barrier (November 30—and why isn't Doc screening them back-to-back?). Beyond usually gets the critical thumbs-up, for its putatively "imaginative" dollar-store sets, while Transparent is more often dissed for being too straightforward, too doggedly matter-of-fact. Like anyone else's movie about a guy who's supposed to be invisible, the camera stalking a vacancy as if somebody or something were actually there. Pure, elemental Dada—gotta love the damn stuff.

Still to come in the series: The Strange Woman (November 9) and The Naked Dawn (November 16), plus a trio of Ulmers from a concurrently running Doc series of Yiddish-language films: Green Fields (October 30), The Light Ahead (November 13), and The Singing Blacksmith (aka Yankl der Shmid, December 4). None of which is a missable one-night stand, whatever the reservations and kvetches. But I probably won't remember anything in the morning.

Doc Films is at Ida Noyes Hall, University of Chicago, 1212 E. 59th St; call 773-702-8575 or go here for more info. 

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